3 Oregon Democrats tangle in secretary of state debate

Julia Silverman // Published May 2, 2008 in Associated Press
The three leading Democrats vying to be Oregon's next secretary of state clashed over campaign finance reform during a debate at the City Club of Portland on Friday.

State Sens. Vicki Walker of Eugene and Rick Metsger of Welches suggested that their opponent and Senate colleague, Kate Brown of Portland, should have done more to limit campaign contributions during the years she spent chairing the Senate Rules Committee.

Oregon is one of a handful of states that places no limits on how much an individual can contribute to a politician. Attempts to change the system have fallen short at the ballot or not made it past court challenges, with judges citing Oregon's broad protections for freedom of speech.
Brown has outraised and outspent both of her opponents by far during the primary campaign, raking in nearly $290,000 since the beginning of this year, to Metsger's $152,000 and Walker's nearly $49,000.

"Your lavish contributions and expenditures have indicated no interest in campaign finance reform," Walker said.

Brown shot back that she had done plenty to advance the cause of campaign finance reform, including backing a new computerized system that gives daily updates of campaign contributions. And she said that as secretary of state, she'd support further reforms.

Whichever Democrat emerges from the primary will take on Republican Rick Dancer in November. Dancer is a former TV news anchor from Eugene who has no primary opponent.

Other than the dustup over campaign contribution limits, the three Senate Democrats were largely in agreement. All said they would work to increase voter turnout, particularly among new voters, with Metsger suggesting "democracy centers" for universities and community colleges, Brown backing same-day voter registration and Walker saying that voter registration forms should be available when graduating high school seniors pick up their caps and gowns.

All three defended Oregon's system of voting by mail, saying that it was largely protected from fraud. Walker called for those who collect ballots and turn them in for voters to register with county clerks. Brown suggested more security around ballot drop-off sites.

Only Metsger said he'd support "open" primaries, a system that would put all candidates onto a primary ballot, and allow the top-two vote-getters to advance to the November election, regardless of party.

Brown said such a system would increase the cost of elections and reduce the breadth of choice during the November general election, when voter participation peaks.

They also varied in their choice of which agency audits they would prioritize, since the secretary of state supervises the audits division. Metsger chose the Department of Transportation and the Department of Economic and Community Development. Walker echoed his call on the economic development agency but said she'd also want to audit the Oregon Lottery and the state Department of Education. Brown said she'd pick the Department of Human Services.